The UV/EB Raw Materials Market

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 10.25.05

Growth of radiation curing continues, but raw material price pressures and shortages remain major concerns.

In recent years, radiation-curing has been one of the brightest spots for ink manufacturers. While the past year will likely be most remembered for the pricing problems that plagued key raw materials, it also remains a time of growth for the radiation-curing industry.

“In terms of growth, we continue to see demand for the technology grow between 4 percent to 6 percent depending on market sector in 2005,” said Michael Kucharski, market manager graphics-Americas for Cytec Surface Specialties.

“With the recovery of the U.S. economy, the U.S. UV/EB markets have rebounded significantly,” said James Goodrich, senior application chemist, graphic arts specialty for Sartomer. “All sectors of UV/EB applications have improved and have resumed their upward growth curves. Although we are seeing some shift in production to Asia, particularly in the electronics markets, the overall UV/EB technology continues to expand at rates similar to the growth we experienced in the 1990s.”

Growth Amid Turmoil
The past year was a challenging year for certain raw materials, but overall, suppliers had strong years. Of course, any discussion of raw materials for UV/EB has to include the pricing and supply pressures of the past year.

“The major issue facing the industry in 2004 was the shortage of raw materials, particularly acrylic acid, and the concomitant escalation of raw material and finished product costs,” said Paul Elias, business director of specialty products for Sartomer. “The shortages and cost escalation have continued into 2005.”

“The radiation curing industry faced difficult times last year due to raw material shortages,” said Mr. Kucharski. “Acrylic acid was the primary culprit. We saw many offshore competitors exit the market, causing a vacuum in supply. Many resin suppliers were forced to allocate material to existing customers and take on no new customers. Raw material prices escalated rapidly during the year, forcing us to follow suit with our products. We believe this year should bring more stability in supply by mid-year. Our costs are expected to remain up due to feedstock shortages.”

“As in all industries, the rising costs of crude oil and shortages of other raw materials have had significant impact on both the pigment and ink markets,” said Maurice Carruthers, general manager and vice president of merchant ink business unit for Sun Chemical Performance Pigments. Suppliers of other key ingredients such as additives and pigments saw strong growth in the radiation curing segment.

“The past year has seen growth for Shamrock Technologies’ additives to the radiation-curing area in line with the general increase in packaging printing and coatings,” said Joon Choo, vice president of marketing for Shamrock Technologies. “The first quarter of this year has been soft, but the outlook for the rest of the year looks good.”

“As pigment suppliers to the ink industry, we have seen exciting growth opportunities in the UV market,” said Mr. Carruthers. “We have experienced increased demand for energy curable inks and have responded to it by providing a wider color palette to the marketplace. “Sun Chemical continues to see significant growth in the UV ink industry—such that energy curable inks are growing at a faster annual rate than conventional inks in both the offset and flexographic markets,” Mr. Carruthers added. “In turn, we are seeing competitive product lines expand across the board as suppliers look to round out their product offerings in energy curable inks.”

The Packaging Market
Packaging and flexo remain key areas for UV and EB. For example, RadTech, the association for the advancement of UV/EB technology, is promoting the use of UV and EB technologies into new application areas, including food packaging.

“We are heavily involved with the RadTech Food Packaging Alliance, which is focused on designing safe and practical UV/EB formulations for discrete contact food packaging applications,” Mr. Kucharski said.

“Sartomer has been instrumental in the growth of RadTech to promote the use of UV and EB technologies into new application areas,” Mr. Elias said.

“The focus is on packaging in UV/EB,” Mr. Kucharski said. “Packagers are looking for low odor/low extractables for food packaging, adhesion to non-porous substrates to accommodate elongation or shrinkage, and at the same time, looking for new ways to capture the consumer’s eye. Converters still see UV/EB as a viable way to limit inventory, reduce VOCs and provide quicker job turnaround, while maintaining excellent aesthetics.

“Flexo is the faster-growing technology today primarily because of its short-run capabilities,” Mr. Kucharski said. “The tag and label industry is moving to flexo because of this advantage. However, litho is still the primary printing technology.”

“We see strong growth for UV/EB in the specialty packaging area,” Mr. Goodrich said. “Thermoformable, heat-shrinkable and improved metallic UV/EB systems are becoming commercially available for the packaging market. These inks allow for very complex packaging designed to catch the consumer’s eye. We are also seeing growth in the rotary screen area, not only for whites but also for various colors.”
Mr. Goodrich also sees demand for low odor/low extractable inks.

“We are seeing the need for very low odor/low extractable inks for all types of printing,” Mr. Goodrich said. “Print jobs where odor was not traditionally an issue are requesting low odor systems. This is causing a fundamental shift in the types of energy-curable raw materials we will use for a particular project.”

“A challenge is to develop highly reactive photoinitiators with extremely low odor for applications such as inks and coatings for food packaging,” said Gary Mason, industry manager, photography and digital imaging at Ciba Specialty Chemicals.

Challenges Facing The Industry
While there is much positive news from the radiation-curing industry, there are challenges that have to be met, beginning with supply, cost and developing new products for future applications.

“Continued assurance of raw material supply is the biggest short-term issue,” Mr. Kucharski said. “Longer-term, it’s developing advanced radcure products for a broader array of new and existing customer applications; there is still a finite portion of the ink market that UV/EB can address.”

“Sartomer continues to perform the leading role in developing new products for higher performance properties as well as for new applications,” Mr. Elias said. “For example, the rapidly growing market for UV ink jet inks and coatings are being served by Sartomer products.”

Regulatory matters are also a matter of concern.

“The most difficult challenge facing the UV/EB ink industry is the growing cloud of regulations coming from Europe,” Mr. Goodrich said. “They are looking at curing UV/EB systems to only parts-per-billion (ppb) extractable levels. This is a difficult challenge that the industry will need new products and processes to meet.”

“At Sartomer, we’re looking at how we can improve the quality of our energy-curable products to dramatically decrease or eliminate the extractables such as solvents and un-reacted materials,” Mr. Goodrich said. “We are also looking at different chemistries that will improve the thoroughness of cure of a system to meet the regulations.”

“Cytec Surface Specialties is concentrating on products that improve adhesion to difficult substrates, materials that improve grind efficiency for certain pigments, and food packaging applications,” Mr. Kucharski said.

“As always, we are working on UV/EB systems with improved adhesion to plastics substrates, especially in the screen and litho ink markets, where the range of plastics the printers are using is expanding while the quality of the substrate itself is decreasing,” Mr. Goodrich said. “In all UV/EB systems, we are looking at ways to improve the cure speed of systems, not only by increasing the acrylate functionality.”

“One of the newest developments is the use of UV curing technology in wide format ink jet printers,” said Mr. Mason. “Ciba has tested a number of powder pigments, pigment preparations and photoinitiators and made a selection of our products for use in UV cured ink jet inks.”

Mr. Choo said that Shamrock is adding to its range of additives to enable increased rub resistance and gloss reduction without an increase in the rheology of the ink.

“Shamrock Technologies is focusing in on making more efficient products via understanding better the mechanisms for their performance,” Mr. Choo said.

“Sun Chemical’s Research and Development Colors Technology group is working to expand its range of pigment dispersants for energy curable systems,” Mr. Carruthers said. “This enabling technology will allow Performance Pigments to supply higher strength, easy to handle dispersions to both UV flexo and UV ink jet markets. Researchers are working to expand this dispersant technology into a broader range of pigment types. We continue to employ Six Sigma and other productivity tools to improve the efficiency and production of our manufacturing plants and reduce our costs. We are continuing to compete with the importers to remain a global leader in pigment manufacturing.”

To keep up with the demand for new products for the new applications that seem to come up on a daily basis, ink formulators will continue to work closely with their suppliers to develop new products, and to ensure that the supply of key ingredients such as acrylic acid remain uninterrupted.

While it is likely that the next year will see continued price and supply pressures, it is equally certain that growth will continue to occur in radiation curing as well, and that radiation curing will continue to be a bright spot for the ink industry in the coming years.

“Beyond the current raw material shortages and cost escalations, the major challenges currently facing the industry include the continued development of new raw materials to satisfy the more demanding applications,” Mr. Elias said. “Also, to continue the growth of the use of UV/EB technology, we must continue to expand into new application areas. Of course, to do that, we must show the economic advantage of UV/EB technology – whether it is lower production cost, environmental compliance or increased business through improved performance properties. This often requires that we ‘step out’ of our existing paradigm of thinking and take some risks on new applications.”

New UV/EB Raw Materials
The following listing includes new products introduced to the ink industry last year.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals Inc.
CH-4002, Basel, Switzerland
540 White Plains Road
Tarrytown, NY 10591-9005
Phone: (914) 785-2000
Fax: (914) 785-4533
Web: www.cibasc.com

New Products:

Ciba Irgacure 2100
Ciba Irgacure 2022
  Comments: Irgacure 2100 and Irgacure 2022 are liquid photoinitiators blends based on Ciba’s bisacyl phosphine oxide (BAPO) technology and are designed for use in pigmented inks, especially whites. These products give good balance between surface and through cure plus the added advantage of the ease of use of a liquid.
Ciba Irgacure 127 (Europe only, not U.S.)
  Comments: Irgacure 127 is an advanced photoinitiator for overprint varnishes offering the advantages of low odor and low migration combined with good resistance to oxygen inhibition.
Ciba Irgastab UV 10
  Comments: Irgastab UV 10 is Ciba’s first product for in-can stabilization of UV inks and coatings. It is a free radical scavenger, used at low concentrations, to extend the shelf stability of inks and coatings. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to current stabilizers on the market.
Ciba Irgacure 379
  Comments: Irgacure 379 is a new alpha amino ketone photoinitiator for curing dark-colored inks. This product offers improved solubility in monomers over Irgacure 369 and is easier to incorporate.

Cytec Surface Specialties
1950 Lake Park Drive
Smyrna, GA 30080
Phone: (800) 433-2873;
(770) 970-7500
Fax: (770) 970-8391
Web: www.surfacespecialties.com
E-mail: CustomerServiceNA@cytec.com

New Products:

ViaSet 211 and ViaSet 212
  Comments: ViaSet 211 and ViaSet 212 are used as a grind and letdown vehicle system to give inks good adhesion to non-porous substrates, and to give good film integrity with scratch resistance.
ViaScreen 520 and ViaScreen 521
  Comments: ViaScreen 520 and ViaScreen 521 are used together for thermoforming screen ink vehicles. ViaScreen 520 is the grind vehicle and ViaScreen 521 is the letdown vehicle.
Ebecryl 1040
  Comments: Ebecryl 1040 is a highly-reactive urethane functional monomer that provides excellent adhesion to plastics.
Ebecryl 113
  Comments: Ebecryl 113 is a low-odor monofunctional aliphatic acrylate with good adhesion to non-porous substrates.

Elementis Specialties
P.O. Box 700
Hightstown, NJ 08520
Phone: (609) 443-2354
Fax: (609) 443-2277
Web: www.elementis-specialties.com
E-mail: craig.baudendistel@elementis-na.com

New Products:

Thixatrol UV1104 liquid rheology modifier
  Comments: Thixatrol UV1104 is a 100% non-volatile liquid thixotrope for use in pigmented UV curable offset, flexo, screen and ink jet inks.  Attributes of Thixatrol UV1104 are efficient rheology control and ease of incorporation, and it is suitable for post-addition and enhancement of anti-settling properties.

Kustom Group
3 Carbon Way
Richwood, KY 41094
Phone: (859) 485-8600
Fax: (859) 485-2623

New Products:

KS-292 Kustom Kure UV Polyester Gel
KS-291 Kustom Kure UV Polyester Free Flow
  Comments: KS-292 and KS-291 are produced with a brand-new modified polyester technology exclusive to Kustom Group. Live production runs of inks formulated with these products exhibit low cost, litho performance equal to that of conventional oil-based inks, a true chemical visco-elastic gel with low tack for superior non-misting properties and excellent print sharpness without dry additives and faster cure versus typical polyester chemistry.
KS-621 Kustom Kure Flexible UV Coating
  Comments: KS-621 is a UV coating specifically developed for off-line applications over heatset and sheetfed inks. KS-621 remains flexible and withstands excessive heat and post cure typically seen on 2-C presses that have been converted for UV coating capability.

Sartomer Company, Inc.
502 Thomas Jones Way
Exton, PA 19341
Phone: (610) 363-4100
Fax: (610) 363-4140
Web: www.sartomer.com
E-mail: contact@sartomer.com

New Products:

  Comments: CN2282 is a new pigment dispersion vehicle designed for both UV/EB paste and liquid inks. CN2282 offers good water balance, adhesion and pigment dispersion properties to paste inks. In liquid inks, CN2282, in combination with a low viscosity monomer, offers good pigment dispersion as well as cure speed and flow. CN2282 is a tetrafunctional polyester acrylate with a viscosity of 85,000 cps at 25°C.
  Comments: SR531 is a monofunctional monomer that will promote flexibility to formulations while not sacrificing cure speed. SR531 works very well in UV/EB screen and liquid inks as a low viscosity diluent of 15 cps at 25°C. SR531 allows for the formulation of heat-shrinkable and thermoformable UV/EB systems. In liquid inks, SR531 offers low photopolymer plate swell with excellent diluent properties.
  Comments: CN710 is a new screen ink vehicle specifically designed for POP inks. CN710 shows excellent flexibility and adhesion to many common substrates used in POP printing, including choroplast, glass, PVC and polycarbonate. CN710 also has shown excellent weathering properties, making it ideal for outdoor signage. CN710 has a viscosity of approximately 1700 cps at 60°C.
  Comments: CN2279 is a low viscosity pigment grinding vehicle designed for UV liquid and ink jet inks. CN2279 provides excellent pigment dispersion properties to UV/EB ink formulations and allows for the design of highly pigmented dispersions. CN2279 is a polyester acrylate with a viscosity of 370 cps at 25°C.

Shamrock Technologies Inc.
Foot of Pacific Street
Newark, NJ 07114
Phone: (973) 286-4860
Fax: (973) 242-8074
Web: www.shamrocktechnologies.com
E-mail: jchoo@compuserve.com

New Products:

S-395-SD2, Mat-Tex series, MicroFlon series
  Comments: New surface morphology controlled micronized products that focus on improving the slip and abrasion resistance of radiation-cured inks and coatings while offering ease of incorporation and stability as well as minimum impact on the rheology at higher levels of addition.

Sun Chemical Performance Pigments
5020 Spring Grove Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45232
Phone: (513) 681-5950; (800) 543-2323
Fax: (513) 632-1537
Web: www.sunpigments.com
E-mail: Maurice.carruthers@na.sunchem.com

New Products:

SpectraCure F
  Comments: Anticipating the demand for UV curable inks in the market, Sun Chemical introduced SpectraCure F, a line of energy curable dispersions specifically formulated for flexography. The products’ high pigment strength, low viscosity and high gloss promote their ease of use. In January 2005, Performance Pigments expanded its color palette in this line and now offers 18 different color index types.
SunQwik Millennium 2 sheetfed flushes
  Comments: SunQwik Millennium 2 sheetfed flushes provide high strength, low mist and user-friendly viscosity.

Related Raw Materials: